The constant buzzing of cicadas like high-voltage power lines is one of the things I’ll remember most about this little house in the pine forest. Maybe because day and night it reminds me I’m not alone, keeps me from getting lost in my thoughts. Why here? I can’t stop asking myself that. How did he end up here, across the ocean, up and over endless mountain ranges, in this secret corner of the world? And what did I expect to find?
I head down to the small beach at the foot of the hill where a man with leathery skin serves fresh fish out of a shack. When I sit down at a table, the legs of the wooden chair sink into the pebbles. I pick at brined anchovies, slices of cucumber and tomato. I sip on a glass of homemade wine, feel it burn its way down my throat.
A gray dog, the whites of his eyes stained yellow, rests beside me in the shade. I can make out each of his ribs from his coat. “Here boy,” I say, and toss him a fried smelt. He gobbles it up, then looks at me, waits, before resting his head back down and staring off into the distance.
An old couple sneaks up from behind the pine trees, carrying beach chairs, carefully stepping on the pebbles so they don’t slip. We’re the only ones here, the five of us including the dog. Why did he choose this place over us? This place he’d never been to before, this place where he had no ties? I light a cigarette and hold it over a big shell for an ashtray. It’s filled with sand and ash. Maybe the old couple knew my father, probably did, but I can’t bring myself to ask.
The house in the pine forest is not mine, or wasn’t originally at least. It was my father’s. He disappeared here after my mother passed. We don’t know how he found it or why. They enjoyed taking their trips, but they’d never been to this part of the world together, certainly not here. They never told us that was the plan. That if one of them died, the other would disappear in a far-off corner of the Earth. That if we lost one of them, we’d lose the other one as well.
The house is at the top of a hill you get to only by following a winding road overgrown with shrubs. There are no neighbors in sight, but sometimes I hear reggae music or the kick-starting of a moped. Through the trees, there is a view of the sea spreading forth like a road to only God knows where.
The cicadas buzz into the night. I have trouble falling sleep. Dogs bark madly for hours like two packs of wolves fighting to the death. I wonder if the gray dog with yellow eyes is among them. I hope he is not. I think about what I’m going to do with this little house in the pines, the closest thing I have to my father’s beating heart. When I almost drift off, a mosquito cries into my ear, fills its body with my blood.
I drive down the winding road, through the countryside and into town. Weeds jet from cracks in the pavement. Stray dogs rifle through trash bins. I have the name and address of a lawyer who is supposed to speak English, who I hope will help me figure out what to do. When I get to town, though, everything is closed. The cafés, the market, even the travel agency at the port where ferry boat tickets are sold. The lawyer is not in. I don’t know what day it is or if it’s a holiday. I panic, maybe from jet lag or sleep deprivation, imagine I’ve stumbled into some parallel universe. I’m going to disappear here just like my father.
I drive back to the small beach thinking I’ll ask the man with the leathery skin if he knows what’s going on today, but the shack is closed too. I spot the gray dog resting in the shade of a bamboo thatch umbrella, and it gives me peace. He ambles over when he sees me and lays at my feet, face against his paws. The sand conforms to his bony body. I decide to name him Pilgrim because he reminds me of my father. My father who was on a journey to this place of apparent significance, though I still haven’t figured out what that is.
I pick up a green piece of glass smoothed by the ocean’s waves and skip it across the water’s surface. I take a swim. The sea is thick and calm like olive oil. After Mom died, did he not want us to see him deteriorate, watch him melt away? Pilgrim’s eyes close, so I whistle for his attention, make sure he doesn’t leave me here.
Back at the house in the pines, I take a cold shower, taste the salt sliding from my hair and face and over my lips. My shorts dry in the sun. I get out and walk around the house. The dust and dirt on the floor are gritty against my feet. There is always dust and dirt on the floor no matter how many times I sweep.
I come across a travel book hidden in one of the bedroom drawers. The book is about this part of the world. This secret corner. My mother has written on the inside of the cover. This book is a promise that we will one day travel to this beautiful land I have dreamt so much about. A promise that it will be our last stop, where we can dissolve into the sea or sky when it is our time to depart the Earth. I sit at the edge of the bed and read it over and over. My father’s telescope is pointed out the window at the clouds. A star chart is taped to the wall. It makes me think how far we sometimes are from those we are closest to.
At night I sit on the balcony and drink wine I found in a cupboard. The cicadas continue to call. Somewhere in the dark I can hear the packs of dogs fighting to survive. Pilgrim wanders up to the house. I don’t know how he found me in this pine forest. Maybe he followed the jaundiced half-moon hanging above, so big it looks like you can touch it. I go inside and cut from a loaf of bread on the counter. I throw it to Pilgrim and he licks it up, then puts his head back down. My father has left an open stepladder on the balcony. I finish my glass of wine and climb to the top rung, reach for the moon, see if there’s something, anything, I can grab on to.
Photo By: Ivan Anisimov
I loved this meditative and moving story about loss and searching and other places. I especially loved these lines:
“This book is a promise that we will one day travel to this beautiful land I have dreamt so much about. A promise that it will be our last stop, where we can dissolve into the sea or sky when it is our time to depart the Earth”
The best I’ve read from Karas, and that’s saying a lot.